What You Need to Know About Adopting a Senior Dog

Ben B.
July 25 2022

Thinking of adopting a senior dog? Good for you! There's really nothing quite as rewarding as giving an older pup a place to live out the remainder of his days surrounded by a loving family. But before you head to your local shelter to fill out the adoption paperwork, there are some things to know. Let's start with the good stuff first, though; the benefits of adopting older dogs.

Benefits of Adopting Older Dogs

Older dogs have a reputation for being less excitable overall. In most cases, they tend to have calmer dispositions and lower energy levels than their younger counterparts. There are many things a senior dog would offer. Let's look at all the positive sides of adopting an older dog.

The sheer joy on their faces when they realize they're getting a forever home

Let's start with my favorite benefit of adopting a senior dog: the knowledge that you're bringing joy to a pup that really deserves it. There are many videos on social media about old dogs crying when they know they were chosen by their adopters. This justifies the belief of many adopters that the older dogs they've taken in are aware of their good fortune and are grateful for the second opportunity at happiness their new owner has given them. From their perspective, life is excellent, and they appreciate additional attention, extra cuddling time, and extra treats.

Need proof of this one? Check out the video below! Grab the tissues, though, you're gonna need them!

Senior dogs are often already trained

Older animals typically arrive well trained, and it shows in their attitude. So, they tend to blend in with new families quicker and reduce some of the stress that comes from teaching basic training. However, the amount of training that your pup already has can vary. Some older dogs have, sadly, spent their entire lives in shelters. They'll probably be leash-trained at the very least. After all, good shelters walk their dogs frequently. However, they may need some extra patience when it comes to potty training. 

Seniors who are new to shelters, though, likely retain most of their previous training. They may still have accidents when they first come home as they readjust to living in a house, but overall they're typically better trained than brand-new puppies.

If you're new to training older pups, the video below may help:

An older dog is more open to picking up new commands.

Older canines that have already received training may learn new command cues faster. Your dog will pay closer attention to every action you make because of the strong link you two share. Because of this innate sensitivity, your new dog will be far more responsive to learning new commands. 

The video below proves that you really can teach an old dog new tricks!

Senior Pups are more laid back

Dogs get wiser as they age but become more laid back. This might not apply to all dogs, of course. There will always be the "young at heart" pup who wants to keep playing forever. My friend had a Shepherd that didn't want to stop playing fetch until well after her 12th birthday! However, as most dogs age, their desire for activity decreases, and their daytime energy level drops. This makes them an ideal fit for people who live less active lives.

You have a better idea of what type of personality you're getting

Most older dogs will be appropriately assessed, so you know precisely what sort of dog you're adopting, even if some behavioral changes are noticed at a shelter. You'll learn things like if he like cats, gets along well with kids, occasionally prefers to be alone, how much exercise they need, and more. Because their owners didn't fully grasp what they were getting into, one of the primary causes puppies and young dogs are brought to shelters is because of this.

Adopting an older dog can give you a fair notion of the dog you're lucky enough to bring home. Also, the fact older dogs typically have already developed into their full physical and mental personalities. So you have a better idea of what to expect. 

They don't necessarily cost more vet-wise. In fact, sometimes they cost less.

Although an older dog may require more veterinary care than a puppy or a young dog, this is not the case. The majority of elderly dogs at shelters are healthy and only require a place to call home. Typically, they are already spayed or neutered, have all of their shots, and are less likely to contract the various illnesses that may be dangerous for pups.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, puppies need numerous rounds of immunizations to prevent infections and diseases that elderly dogs are highly unlikely to develop. An older dog is mature, settled, and eager to find a permanent home.

pitbull

Drawbacks & Things to Consider Before Adopting Senior Dogs

There are SO many positives to adopting a senior dog that it's easy to want to ignore the negatives. However, doing that would do a disservice to both you and the dog. So, let's look at the drawbacks and considerations. 

Some older dogs may have more serious health issues.

The first thing to consider when adopting an older dog is the cost of vet care. Yes, I just said that some older dogs are healthier and less costly than puppies in terms of vet visits. The key word there is SOME. There's a flip side to that coin, though. Depending on the breed and medical history, some senior pups could have major health issues. For example, large breeds are almost always prone to hip problems. Maybe not outright dysplasia (a lot of breeders screen for that now). But it's not unreasonable to expect them to at least be dealing with some arthritis.

Others may have more serious issues. Cancer, sight and hearing problems, kidney disease, and other conditions that require more frequent vet visits. Of course, even if you adopt a puppy you can't dodge this fact forever. After all,  pups grow up to be old dogs! However, some older dogs could require immediate attention for problems like dental work. You can always inquire about an older dog's medical history or consult the dog's veterinarian beforehand. 

Once you know the dog's medical history, ask yourself if you can handle the financial strain. Be very honest with yourself. Don't feel guilty if you have to say "no" to a dog with more issues than you know you can manage. You'll feel even more guilty if you have to return him down the road because you realize that there's absolutely no way you can afford to give him the care that he needs.

You may encounter dogs that have painful backgrounds.

An older dog may have come from a challenging family, been abandoned, been a stray, or spent time in a loud facility. This could cause a dog to exhibit fearfulness, food aggression, or abandonment difficulties. You can help with these problems, but it will take time and compassion. 

If your dog wasn't properly socialized as a puppy, you might need to exercise more patience while working to reduce his fear of humans or other dogs. Your older dog might never become the friendliest or bravest dog in the world, but he can learn to be more comfortable around you. 

They might need to be retrained from negative habits.

Your dog may have developed some poor behaviors that require a little retraining, and habits may occasionally be challenging to change. Senior dogs may bark excessively at night because the owner failed to discourage them, or they may not have been properly housebroken. Use positive reinforcement to make a new behavior more alluring while retraining an older dog. (Tip: Giving treats can be helpful.)

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that some behavioral issues can never really be unlearned. That same friend with the Shepherd that I mentioned above also adopted a 6-month-old puppy. Not really a senior dog, I know. However, he spent the entire first 6 months of his life in a horrible situation before he was rescued by a more humane one (which is where she found him). He never had enough to eat, so he became very food-insecure. While he was never aggressive about it, he did steal any food that wasn't nailed down, so to speak. Because this happened during his most formative months, it was deeply ingrained into him. He never got over it, even as a senior dog.

You'll miss their puppyhood.

Missing the puppy years has both advantages and disadvantages. You bypass the housebreaking and teething stages. But you also lose out on all the precious puppy moments. This shouldn't stop you from adopting a senior dog. But just know that it's okay to "mourn" those lost puppy years a bit. 

Where to Find Senior Dogs for Adoption

There are actually a lot of ways to find these dogs. You can visit the websites of rescue organizations, schedule a virtual or in-person visit, and speak with the organization's counselors.

The locations of senior rescues are easy to find with a few clicks of a mouse (or taps on your phone). You just have to use the right keywords. For example, if you're looking for a local shelter, just search "dog shelters near me" or "dog shelters + [your zip code]." Obviously, replace the "your zip code" with your actual zip. 🙂 

You can also use apps like Petfinder. One thing I like about that is that you can search by breed as well as age and location. So if you have your heart set on adopting a senior Saluki, you can narrow your search to just that breed.

Local rescue Facebook groups and pages can also give you guidance on where to look. Just use a bit more caution with these resources. Anyone can start a Facebook page, after all. Don't adopt a senior dog without meeting them first, and don't send money to anyone that you don't know.

Conclusion

Bringing a senior dog home has several advantages, and you may feel good about providing him a lasting home when he reaches his golden-age years. If you're unsure about adopting an older dog, try fostering first. Fostering for a local shelter or animal rescue group gives those groups vital assistance and allows you to show off your loving nature.

The age of a dog frequently influences our selection when acquiring one. It makes sense that selecting a younger pup when adopting a new dog is the default option because of the longevity you can make with your pet. And because who doesn't adore puppies? I mean, who really doesn't? You might be shocked by how heartwarming adopting an older dog can be.

Geriatric animals are possibly the least accepted and most disregarded category of potential rescue pets. Because many owners are afraid they won't get much time to bond with an aged one. But senior dog adoption is a compassionate and socially responsible gesture since it prevents a dog from being put down. Besides, ALL creatures deserve to live out their golden years surrounded by love, including dogs. 

Ben B.

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